Rohingya rights activists and Diasporas criticize the move taken after a year of military crackdown, calling it a smokescreen
The Myanmar government has formed a four-member 'independent' commission to investigate allegations of human rights violations in the Rakhine state following attacks on security forces’ check posts in August last year.
The commission’s formation was disclosed in a press release posted on the website of the Myanmar president’s office on Monday.
According to the release, the Myanmar government established the commission as part of its national initiative to address reconciliation, peace, stability and development in Rakhine.
“The Independent Commission will investigate the allegations of human rights violations and related issues, following the terrorist attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).”
However, its formation nearly one year after the military crackdown on innocent Rohingya people started has prompted human right activists in Myanmar and Rohingya Diasporas to rain down criticisms, questioning the commission’s credibility and accountability.
Rosario Manalo, former undersecretary of foreign affairs in charge of international economic relations of the Philippines, is the chairperson of this commission.
The other three members are: former chairperson of Myanmar's constitutional tribunal U Mya Thein, former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief Kenzo Oshima and former senior official at UNICEF Prof Dr Aung Tun Thet.
National and international legal and technical experts will assist the commission, according to the press release.
Since August 26 last year, more than 700,000 Rohingyas, mostly children and women, crossed into Bangladesh fleeing brutal persecution carried out by Myanmar security forces, and joined over 400,000 other Rohingyas who were already living squalid, cramped refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Several thousands of people from the ethnic minority Muslim group are also living, under terrible conditions, on the no man’s land between the two countries.
Not credible enough?
At present, Manalo is the special representative of the Philippines to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
Oshima had also served as Japan’s permanent representative to the UN and Thet is a former principal officer of the UN System Staff College in Turin, Italy.
However, Khin Ohmar, chairperson of Myanmar-based human rights advocacy organization Progressive Voice, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The commission has individuals from international community such as from the Philippines and Japan. But they do not have enough credentials or track record when comes to protecting human rights.
“No one knows how they got selected to be on the commission and what their mandate is.”
The rights activist said: “The process is discreet and lacks transparency. So we have no confidence in that. It's neither independent nor impartial.”
Burmese authorities had numerous opportunities to launch credible investigations before, Ohmar said, like in 2017, when the UN found evidences of crimes against humanity carried out against the Rohingyas, but a national commission rejected that.
“And an army investigation into the 2017 attacks even determined that there were no deaths of innocent people. Clearly, Myanmar has no intention to launch a credible investigation,” she added.
Different Rohingya Diasporas also said that formation of such commission is not new and an independent and impartial investigation panel already exists in the form of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (FFM).
But the government refused to cooperate with the FFM and the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, and did not allow them to enter Myanmar.
Rohingya rights activists claimed, despite formation of this new commission, the Myanmar government had no intention of holding those responsible for violating human rights accountable.
They said that this new commission might act as a smokescreen to hide the injustice and delay the credible efforts already being undertaken.
The activists also stated that the international community must keep the pressure on Myanmar government and ensure that credible steps continue to move the Rohingya closer to their demands for justice by referring the country to the International Criminal Court.
Nay San Lwin, a coordinator of London-based Free Rohingya Coalition, told the Dhaka Tribune that Myanmar has been forming inquiry, investigation and advisory commissions since 2012. “None of them found any solution for the Rohingya, but mostly advocated for the government and military.”
He said the state-run commissions claimed the military did not commit any crimes against the Rohingyas and the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State only advised. The government did not even implement the recommendations made by Annan's commission.
Lwin said the government spokesman had officially said that they use these commissions as a shield, adding that Myanmar was forming such panels again and again to avoid the FFM.
“The outcome will be nothing,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Dhaka Tribune tried to reach the Myanmar Embassy in Dhaka via email for comments on the matter, but got no response until this report was filed.